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What Are COVID-19 Vaccine Booster Shots? Will They Help From Emerging Variants? Everything To Know

As per the latest news from the United States, the country will begin the distribution of COVID-19 booster shots next month after the evaluation of the new data showing the waning of the efficacy of the coronavirus vaccines over time.

A joint statement attributable to the Director of the CDC Dr Rochelle Walensky, Acting Commissioner of FDA Dr Janet Woodcock, US Surgeon General Dr Vivel Murthy, Director of the NIH Dr Francis Collin, White House Chief Medical Advisor Dr Anthony Fauci and other U.S. health leaders have been released in this regard on 18 August 2021 talking about the administration plan for COVID-19 vaccine booster shots for Americans. [1]

It says "The available data makes very clear that protection against SARS-CoV-2 infection begins to decrease over time following the initial doses of vaccination, and in association with the dominance of the Delta variant, we are starting to see evidence of reduced protection against mild and moderate disease".

Let's know more in detail.

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What Are COVID-19 Vaccine Booster Shots?

Covid-19 vaccine booster shots are additional coronavirus vaccine doses or vaccine top-ups given to people to boost their immune system and prevent them from new and emerging variants of coronavirus, especially Delta variants whose cases are highest in the US.

A study published on May 14 2021 says that around 60 million doses of vaccine for the booster campaign have already been ordered by another continent, the United Kingdom. Along with that, Israel is also planning to start the same campaign in October and has already secured around 16 million extra vaccine doses (Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna) to vaccinate children below 16 as well as to booster shot people. However, they haven't made any decisions yet due to the lack of possible evidence. [2]

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The study also includes a statement made by the CDC in May that says, "The need for and timing for COVID-19 booster doses have not been established. No additional doses are recommended at this time."

However, seeing the spread of the Delta variant that has caused around 99 per cent of recent COVID-19 cases in the US, the country has finally issued the statement for the booster shots starting next month in September. [3]

Are They Necessary?

Booster shots are routinely used for some infectious diseases like flu which is given for protection against seasonal emerging variants every year, and tetanus which is suggested to be given every 10 years to boost the immunity against the infection.

At present, it is still unclear whether booster shots are needed or not for COVID-19 due to the lack of evidence-based data.

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However, some preliminary data shows that booster shots of vaccines can help enhance both cellular and humoral immunity, especially in older adults who are at higher risk of reinfection from new COVID-19 variants due to age being the possible factor. [4]

Booster shots are, however, not yet suggested for countries that have not yet completed vaccinating their entire population. The top-up dose is mainly for those countries like the US who have started the vaccination drive at the beginning of the year, and have already completed their six-month assessment.

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Alex Richter, an immunologist at the University of Birmingham (UK) says, "Most healthcare workers are really fit and healthy, so if they are not hanging onto their antibodies, it's highly likely we're going to be vaccinating people in the autumn with a booster." [2]

The joint statement says, "Based on our latest assessment, the current protection against severe disease, hospitalization, and death could diminish in the months ahead, especially among those who are at higher risk or were vaccinated during the earlier phases of the vaccination rollout. For that reason, we conclude that a booster shot will be needed to maximize vaccine-induced protection and prolong its durability".


Who Are Eligible For The COVID-19 Vaccine Booster Shots?

Fully vaccinated people or those who have been vaccinated in the early rollout of the vaccination are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine booster shots. It includes health care providers, senior citizens, nursing home residents and other healthcare workers and elderly people.

Booster shots are also expected to be given to people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as the administration of the vaccine has not started in the US until March 2021 and more data is expected on the vaccine efficacy in a few weeks.

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Is COVID-19 Vaccine Going To Become An Annual Vaccination?

In an interview, Anthony Harnden of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation said that the COVID-19 vaccine is likely going to become an annual vaccination, similar to flu vaccines.

The booster shots of COVID-19 vaccines would be required annually either from protection against new variants that emerge every year or as a safety method to keep the immune system intact, considering the duration of protection is still unknown. [5]

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The US is planning to roll out the vaccine booster shots in autumn so as to avoid the surge of the infection in the winter, unlike last year.

He added, "We certainly don't want to see a winter like we've seen this winter. And if we've got new variants circulating and we've got dropping levels of immunity due to the vaccination, then that becomes imperative to do a booster".

However, the plan of making COVID-19 vaccines an annual vaccine, more studies are required on the duration of protection, virus mutation, how fast the virus mutates and other vital details.


Which Vaccines Will Be Given As Booster Shots?

To date, the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covishield and Pfizer BioNTech vaccines are on the list of vaccines to be given as booster shots. The two doses of these vaccines have already been given to people, however, regarding the third dose, it is yet not clear whether the third dose will be given of the same vaccine or of the different vaccine, unlike the first dose doses. [6]

The mixing and matching of two COVID-19 vaccines are still not recommended by the CDC and WHO, though there have been studies saying the effectiveness and good results of the same. [7]

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COVID-19 Vaccine Booster Shots In India

In India, there is yet no information on starting the campaign for vaccine booster shots. This could be because, unlike the US, in India,the cases of Delta variant is significantly low and plus, many people are yet to be vaccinated in the country, due to which data on the duration of the vaccine effectiveness is still lacking.

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To Conclude

Seeing the rising cases, hospitalisation and death in the US, the country is going to begin the administration of vaccine booster shots, however, they are also prepared to modify the plan if required as per the new data.

Also, the answers to questions like vaccine effectiveness, protection against existing and emerging variants and the effectiveness of the booster shot for higher protection are still unclear and require more research.